All of huntington Beach

California History and Our Early Settlers

By City Archivist, Kathie Schey

This month, we look at the history of our State & the people who settled in early California therefore creating our “Golden” State.

Native Americans lived in our area for thousands of years until European “newcomers” began arriving in the 1700s, establishing missions and presidios, where the indigenous population was systematically “transformed” into workers by Catholic missionaries.

First claimed for Spain by Juan Cabrillo in 1542, the land known as “California” appeared as a peninsula and an island on maps in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Clearly, Europeans looking to dominate the region were confused about its geography. Some clarification came when Gaspar de Portola led an expedition of more than 60 men to explore the area. He did not pass through present-day Huntington Beach, but did traverse much of Orange County, including Trabuco Canyon, Brea, and the Santa Ana Valley.

Cementing the Crown’s claims to the land, the Spanish King gave grants – more appropriately named “concessions” - to a few men held in high regard. The vast area, including today’s Huntington Beach, was granted to Manuel Nieto, a prominent figure known as a “leather jacket solider” (pictured) due to the heavy protective vests worn. Upon Nieto’s passing, his extensive holdings were divided into several “ranchos,” with the Rancho Bolsa Chica encompassing much of present-day Huntington Beach.

These Spanish territories became part of Mexico following Mexican Independence in 1821, and remained so until the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1848. Gold was discovered at Sutter’s Creek only a few months later, forever changing California and thrusting it prominently into the national spotlight.

Hordes of ‘49ers poured into California seeking gold, leaving abandoned ships in San Francisco’s port. These migrants came from all parts of the country, bringing with them their divided ideas about slavery amid roiling debates on the subject. Concerned with the region’s growth, U.S. President Zachary Taylor called for the establishment of a government. Forty-eight delegates, comprising both Anglos and Californios (of Latin heritage), gathered in Monterrey to draft our inaugural State Constitution, ratified on November 13, 1849. California officially joined the Union as a “free state” on September 9, 1850.